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Although it has taken longer than most experts anticipated 10 years ago, broadband Internet access has finally become mainstream, with most businesses and many consumers utilizing some type of high-speed connection. If you are a sole practitioner who is still using dialup to access the Internet, you are wasting your own � and your clients’ � time and money. Broadband Internet connections provide you exponentially quicker access to online legal research and e-mail, allowing you to service and communicate with your clients more easily and rapidly, and can put you on a level playing field with the larger firms with bigger resources. Still, making the switch to broadband can be confusing because there are so many options available. For solo practitioners and small firms, the two most economical choices are DSL and cable. But even these areas have options. DSL, or a digital subscriber line, allows high-speed Internet access over an existing pair of copper telephone wires, but is not necessarily available in all locations. In order to qualify to receive DSL service, you must be within 18,000 feet of a phone company central office that’s equipped for DSL. Fortunately, in the Philadelphia area, that’s often not a problem. A number of options exist among DSL lines, with the more common ones being ADSL, or an asymmetric digital subscriber line, and SDSL, which stands for symmetric digital subscriber line. ADSL lines allow you to download files from another location more rapidly than uploading those files, but are usually half the cost of an SDSL line, which provides the same upload and download speed. Most residential DSL services are ADSL, while businesses tend to go with SDSL lines if they are interested in teleconferencing or voice over IP applications. In addition, DSL lines can vary in speed, with a new, lower-cost DSL that is not as fast as the more traditional DSL services, but still a lot faster than dialup, now being marketed. The lower-speed service is intended more for home users than professionals. When evaluating a DSL connection, the marketplace provides a few options. Perhaps the first � but certainly not the only � place to consult is the regional phone company, such as Verizon. Other providers include the major ISPs, such as Earthlink, AOL and MSN, which offer DSL in partnership with the phone companies. Covad is a national, independent DSL provider. Local ISPs can also offer DSL services using the telephone company equipment to deliver the service but can often offer more personalized, hands-on support for setting up the service and helping you choose the right plan for your practice. The other primary broadband Internet option for small firms is cable, through providers such as Comcast or RCN. Cable is generally perceived to be faster than DSL, while DSL tends to be less expensive, but features on both types of services can affect speeds and costs. Cable speeds are usually advertised as faster than standard DSL, but speeds can be less than optimal, since one computer shares bandwidth with others in the area, while a DSL line is more of a direct connection. Cable connection speeds tend to vary from time to time, while DSL generally remains stable. In addition, phone services can be bundled together by some providers, offsetting costs. Beyond the basic Internet-access speeds, different providers provide different levels of customized services, such as domain name registration and Web hosting. Lawyers in firms of all sizes should be using an e-mail name with their own domain name in it, such as [email protected] , instead of a generic name at an ISP, such as [email protected] . It just looks more professional. A broadband provider can help you set this up. So what is the best way to proceed for the harried, tech-challenged solo? First, determine your needs. If download speed is your critical need (and for most users it is), but you are not uploading files anywhere, a simple ADSL line is probably the most economical option. But for a few more bucks per month, a cable line will probably give you better speed in both directions. If you need handholding and help setting up a domain name and personalized e-mail account, a DSL line through a local ISP may be your best option. But remember to shop around. Call the phone company, the cable company and several ISPs. Find out who you feel most comfortable with and make your decision. But whatever you decide, do it fast � that slow Internet connection is wasting everybody’s time. BRIAN R. HARRIS is the database administrator for the American Lawyer Media-Pennsylvania division and the former editor-in-chief ofThe Legal Intelligencer . Harris can be contacted at [email protected].

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